Alighiero e Boetti

Bonner Kunstverein

One feels completely at a loss viewing the works of Alighiero e Boetti. What do these minimalist objects have to do with colorfully embroidered pictures and the copied title pages of various magazines? What do the stacked months of a calendar signify? Or the names of the 1,000 longest rivers that have been embroidered so carefully onto canvas? What purpose does the lamp that is never lit serve, or, for that matter, the drawings with the banal subtitles that make jokes about modern art? Apparently nothing unifies these works: they are like individual fragments that landed as if by accident in one room together, but they are no less compelling for their seeming randomness.

As this, his first one-person show in Germany made clear, Boetti’s works deal with the hidden, the coincidental, and the transient. A work from 1967, Pavimento (Floor), which consists of several flat tiles that form a rectangle, could easily be compared to a Minimalist sculpture by Carl Andre. But the unique aspect of this work is that the individual tiles are turned a bit from the orthogonal coordinates of the rectangle: they are placed diagonally. It is precisely this that differentiates Boetti’s work from the Minimalists who laid claims to a formalism that opposed chance in their efforts to achieve a higher order. Boetti distrusts this higher order, for in this work his intention was “the presentation of a visual disorder, which on the contrary is the representation of a spiritual order.” Visual order is not necessarily the expression of a universal order, and in this work Boetti began with the polarity of order and disorder and the oscillation between these two poles that can be said to resemble a Ping-Pong game.

Ludwig Wittgenstein disputed philosophies of order which presuppose that universal concepts are direct models of the world. The world knows no binding model, and for Boetti the world can be a map, or the 1,000 longest rivers, or the 144 title pages of magazines from 1988. Or as in Metterre il mundo al mundo (Giving birth to the world, 1972–73), this model can be five boards that carry the letters A to Z on the left-hand side and are scribbled on by many people.

Order also presumes that time, which also means change, can be stopped. But time eats away at everything and cannot be stopped, endangering any ordered system. Boetti orders the world according to countries, but the borders change so quickly that he has to stop frequently. The question of time permeates his work—his many calendars or the rivers that are in perpetual change.

Order eliminates chance, but there is no world without chance. Boetti allows people to write on various works of his. The result of these chance encounters is that order arises from disorder, a result that then forms the world for him. This world knows no visual order since it is created through chance and time. Or, more precisely, the order of this world is hidden, often part of the disorder and recognizable only momentarily, as it is in Lampada annuale (Annual lamp, 1966), which is lit only once a year for 11 seconds. In all probability this light will be seen by no one.

Boetti’s art is subversive, questioning the categories of history. It denounces a stable order, but acts as a ladder up which the viewer must climb only to lose the need for it altogether. Only then can one understand this art, and then the world looks different.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.